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Five World-Renowned Experiences in Vietnam
Travelers want many things from a trip. Some want to unplug and destress. Some want a great tan. Some want to buy cool stuff. And some want to expose themselves to what it is that is most remarkable about the place they’re visiting. In the center of Vietnam, there is a cluster of UNESCO World Heritage assets that may very well form the greatest concentration of World Heritage opportunities in all Southeast Asia.
I’m going to call them out, one by one, and in descending order of appeal.
No. 1 - Hue. Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 when the first emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Gia Long, consolidated his hold on Vietnam and established the country’s capital in Hue. He built a 4-square-kilometer Citadel that stands still today, as well as an Imperial City modeled on the Forbidden Purple City in Beijing, and he launched construction on more than 150 palaces, pavilions and other structures, including a walled funereal city. Altogether, the architecture of this city is the East Asia of a traveler’s dreams.
No. 2 - Hoi An. The people of Hoi An will say I am biased, elevating Hue over Hoi An, which is in fact a more popular destination. (I will save my argument for another day.) For the purposes of this post, I say this: Do not miss Hoi An. The city is the most remarkably preserved seaport in all of Southeast Asia The streets, shophouses, temples and bridges look today the way they did 400 years ago. Walking the pedestrian friendly streets of Hoi An is the closest thing anyone can come to time travel in Vietnam, especially when the moon is out and the lanterns are glowing.
No. 3 - Phong Nha. In 2009, explorers re-discovered the world’s largest cave at Son Doong in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Actually, the cave was discovered in the early 1990s, but only became known to the wider world a few years ago. You would need to mount an expedition into Son Doong, but you can travel to Phong Nha Cave and come back to La Residence Hotel in the same day, albeit a long day. The first time I stood in the 165-meter high main grotto at Phong Nha and gawked at the wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites, I found myself, for the first time in my life, unable to speak.
No. 4 - My Son. From the 4th Century to the 14th Century, the Cham people built temples in a lush valley some 40 kilometers west of Hoi An. Today 71 of these ancient relics remain in 14 different clusters. Angkor, this is not, but if not for Angkor, My Son would be one of the most talked about temple clusters in Southeast Asia. The valley setting is spectacular, and the techniques the Cham used to mortar the bricks are still something of a mystery.
No. 5 - Court Music. It’s one thing to see Vietnam, but you’ve got to listen to it, as well. The essence of the country’s royal sensibilities endure in nha nhac, which translates as elegant music. Court music is what we developed instead of jazz, and it’s like jazz in that the musicians play somewhat free form around a common core. Court musicians cultivated this musical tradition from the 15th to 20th centuries, and today, there are regular performances in Hue’s Imperial City.
By Phan Trong Minh, General Manager La Residence Hotel & Spa